Walking Shoes (Boone)

I remember the first days I saw Boone. It was orientation for Rachel’s first year at college and we had brought the whole family, made a whole mini-reunion of it. I remember the mornings leaving the house on Glenham Drive – Dad, not yet graduated from his legal pad packing list to his standard spreadsheet, would firmly call out reminders to the family as we got ready.

“Bring your walking shoes. We’re going to be walking a lot.”

“Wear layers.”

“Do you have your raincoat?”

His voice easily echoed throughout the house.

The drive then was not so familiar, but by the time I left I felt I could drive it in my sleep. It is always poignant – that first time you realize you have crossed into mountain air. One square foot of highway before, you weren’t there. The next – you’re so deep in it, you can’t go back. It meets you at the knee of the mountain – where the foot was otherwise still too humid – and brushes cares off your shoulders that you didn’t know were there. You know it when it comes because it starts to hum a lullaby that awakens you and puts you to sleep, all at once. Without words, everyone begins to open the windows of the Chevy Astro van and silk their fingers through the fresh mountain air. It is cold and nearly icy to the touch – it feels so alive that you want to dive your whole body into its currents. Music is turned off, as if to louden the sound of the quiet whipping wind.

I remember unloading the van in front of Lovell dorm, the same dorm where my Mom had stayed, and carting Rachel’s belongings up the rusty elevator that we were sure might give way at any moment. There, too, the mountain air seeped in through the window of her very grown-up room, filtering through the pine tree leaves beside. She was my cool big sister who went to college first. I remember her big orange “18” that she promptly displayed in her new home, a gift her friends had made her on her last birthday.

Dunnings were picnic-ers. We would picnic on the side of the parkway, us and the orange cooler, off the back of the faded red Chevy Astro van. Dad would snap photos from the overlook, over and over, in silence, always looking for the perfect shot.

Never leaving without a prayer across the threshold, we said our goodbyes and down the mountain we went, Rebecca and I already plotting how we would split the bunk beds.

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Came Becca, too, traveled to Boone. She lived in what she liked to call the Eastern block of Germany. I remember the Amelie soundtrack she played as we made the best out of trying to clean the small space that she would now call home. I remember the candle she burned to mark her entrance in this new place. She spoke in dreams of the people who would come through her door. And not without a prayer, we headed out.

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I remember when I moved out for good, first time, halfway through college. I cried. I loaded the then-loaned-from-Becca white 1982 Volvo station wagon with all my stuff and drove up the mountain alone. I was moving to a crumpled set of grungy apartments coupled behind The Red Onion restaurant that produced a strange smell, one that never failed to waft its way up into our ground-floor cave. We had such a little space, but we began large. Two bedrooms, four girls, and a brief walk to all our friends – we were invincible. Our first real apartment.

I remember that back porch with the faded wood that would not splinter and watching the mountain side turn green again after winter, and summer nights whose days had seen a good bit of the river and wet hair over glasses of wine and fresh guacamole, and always always, with the friends inside. I remember that freak hail storm one summer while we were swimming and I remember jumping off the dam. I remember the winter we never got out because it didn’t stop snowing. Ever. I remember our roommate family time that I was so determined to have and I remember early study mornings. I remember, too, another Boone house, and another time. I remember Boone.

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I remember Hannah Redd and the first time we sat in Welbourne and thought how we may be the same person. I remember our road trips in her small red Toyota-that-could named Latoya and Hannah’s constant music, constant drumming. I remember hiding the pillows and those bunk beds and how incredibly hard it was to get out of bed during college. I remember her listening eyes and her persistence and I remember dressing Jeffers the Christmas tree. I remember Hannah Redd.

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The drive does not forget me, though now I come from the North side. I drive up the mountain again this weekend to stay in cabins a little ways off. I see that Hannah Redd, and the Brittany and Audra beside her. I see them and now I also see Hannah’s soon-husband, and I know we will welcome him in deeply. We will find our porch in the shade of the trees there and remember all the laughing, and make new laughter, and pull up a chair for Evan. We will see the mountain side green again, and we will look on to the next home. And we will pray over their threshold before leaving.

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The drive cannot come quickly enough: Chilly nights have been whispering to me and calling me to their dew; even the whipping winter winds howl to me from their graves. I found myself so near in heart that I almost thought to tell the girls

to bring their walking shoes,

and to wear layers,

and to remember their rain coats.

I’ll set my packing list aside, and fall prey to the dance, and summon the letter-story that hides in the woods sometimes. The woods are for safe-keeping, and here in Boone is a secret Narnia that holds a spot in time for me – a bookmark of faithfulness, and of layers, and many, many pairs of walking shoes.

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He never forgets where he left off. He never lets the ink run dry. The current runs strong, and when it doesn’t, it rests deeply, and with purpose, til all the sediments sink to the bottom and collect in the mud and nurture the earth. With every new threshold – whether of the heart or of the home, or of both – I still see our good Father unpacking the next chapter, and praying over our threshold.